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How Behavioral Health Treatment Centers Help Teens Overcome Depression

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Behavioral health treatment centers give teens with depression the tools they need to live a life defined by them – not by their diagnosis.

Parents of teenagers know adolescence is a time of rapid and radical growth and change.

Change happens on almost all levels: physical, psychological, and emotional. The external changes are easy to see. Puberty brings physical and sexual maturity, among other things. Boys begin to look like men, and girls begin to look like women. Teens may change their peer group, the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they act, and the things they like to do in their spare time.

That’s all typical teenage behavior.

In addition to the physical changes that occur, it’s important for parents to understand that what’s going inside a teenager’s brain. The amygdala, the part of the brain related to emotion, develops before the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rational decision making. This explains much of the behavior parents find confounding – and this developmental pattern is also why parents are often mystified by the decisions teens make when left to their own devices.

When teens make decisions that appear anything but rational, parents need to understand the cause: the emotional part of the teenage brain supersedes the rational part of the brain, which results in decisions based more on emotion than on logic.

Once parents understand that, it explains a lot – even though it doesn’t make parenting a teen any easier.

There’s another thing that parents need to know about teenagers and emotion:

About 16 percent of teenagers in the U.S. experience symptoms of depression between the ages of 12 and 17.

For many parents, that’s a startling statistic. But there’s more for parents to know:

Treatment for depression works – and the best place for a teen to get treatment for depression is at a behavioral health treatment center that specializes in working with teenagers.

Teen Depression: Facts and Figures

The Child Mind Institute is a reliable resource for information and statistics on everything related to child and adolescent development. Each year, they release an important publication that public officials, policymakers, and mental health professionals use as a reference for understanding how teenagers in the U.S. are doing: It’s called the Children’s Mental Health Report.

In 2017, they dedicated the report to adolescent depression and anxiety. We combined information from that report and a nationwide peer-reviewed study to give the following information on the prevalence of anxiety and depression in teens in the U.S.

Prevalence of Depressive Disorders 2017: Adolescents

  • By Age Group (2017):
    • 13-14: 8.4%
    • 15-16: 12.6%
    • 17-18: 15.4%
    • Overall: 12.1%
  • By Gender (2017):
    • Females: 15.9%
    • Males: 7.7%

Now we’ll offer you the late statistics from another reliable source public officials, policymakers, and mental health professionals use to gauge how teenagers are doing: the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Here’s the data from the 2019 NSDUH on both rates of depression and mental health treatment among adolescents.

Prevalence of Depressive Disorders and Treatment 2019: Adolescents

  • 3.8 million adolescents were diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDE)
    • That’s a 73% increase over the past 15 years
    • This trend coincides with increasing levels of suicide attempts and death by suicide among adolescents over the past 15 years
  • 1.6 million adolescents received treatment for MDE
    • That’s a 95% increase over the past 15 years
  • 601,000 adolescents received treatment for an MDE with severe impairment
    • That’s a 115% increase over the past 15 years

Those numbers show us two important things: rates of depression among adolescents in the U.S. are increasing, and more adolescents receive treatment for depression than ever before. They also show that there’s a significant treatment gap, which means that far more adolescents who have depression receive treatment for depression. When we do the math on the treatment gap, we come up with a disturbing figure:

Almost 60 percent of teens diagnosed with MDE did not receive treatment for MDE.

That needs to change – and it can. Teens can receive evidence-based treatment and support for depression at behavioral health centers that specialize in treating adolescents.

To learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in teens, please read our article: When Should a Parent Seek Professional Help for a Teen with Depression?

Now we’ll offer an overview of what kind of treatment for depression works for adolescents, and how it helps them.

Treatment for Depression: Evidence-Based and Effective

Research shows that the best treatment for depression in teens follows the integrated treatment model. The highest quality behavioral health treatment centers for teens employ this model, which includes a combination of:

At a behavioral health treatment center for teens with depression, the therapies above may occur in various combinations across different levels of care. The different levels of care correspond to the specific amount of supervision, monitoring, treatment immersion, and treatment intensity a teen with depression needs.

We’ll discuss the levels of care now.

Behavioral Health Treatment for Teens With Depression: Levels of Care

The four most common levels of care are:

1. Outpatient Programs (OP)

In outpatient treatment, parents take their teen to an office visit once or twice a week. This is typical entry level treatment for a teen who needs help and support with psychological or emotional issues such as depression, but whose issues do not significantly disrupt their ability to function in school and do not significantly impair their family or peer relationships.

2. Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

In an IOP program, adolescents receive treatment for a half-day, three to five days a week. This level of mental health treatment is appropriate for teens with a depressive disorder that’s significant enough to disrupt day-to-day living, but still allows them to live at home and/or go to school.

3. Partial Hospitalization Programs

In PHP programs, adolescents receive treatment for a full day, five days a week. This level of treatment is appropriate for teens with depression that’s significant enough to disrupt day-to-day living. Teens in PHP programs typically do not go to school, although most PHP programs have an academic component. Teens in PHP programs for depression live at home, and do not live at the treatment center.

4. Residential Treatment Programs (RTC)

This level of treatment is appropriate for teens with depressive symptoms so severe they need 24/7 support and monitoring. Teens who attend a residential behavioral treatment center do not live at home and need an immersive level of care to manage their depression. In a residential program, teens receive more intensive therapy and psychiatric care than in IOP or PHP programs.

How These Programs Help

The goal of an integrated treatment program at a behavioral health treatment center is simple: empower teens to overcome depression and live life on their own terms. All the approaches we mention above – individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, experiential therapy, expressive therapy, community support, medication – serve that same goal. The levels of care work the same way: each level of care is designed to meet teens where they are with a degree of support tailored to meet their specific needs.

At a behavioral health treatment center for adolescents, treatment programs help teens by teaching them practical skills to manage their depression. They learn tools and techniques they can apply every day, in virtually every context: at school, at home, with friends, and out in the world. They learn that they can grow and heal – and live life on their own terms. The most important thing they learn, though, is that they are not defined by their diagnosis. They’re complete humans, ready to meet the world head-on and live fulfilling and productive lives.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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